Tracking Trash? There's an App for That

September 30, 2009

The lowly world of trash is going high-tech.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with funding and support from the company Waste Management and other organizations, have been using custom-made sensors planted on hundreds of pieces of trash in New York City, Seattle, and London to track the circuitous route that trash takes each day. Similar efforts are planned for other cities; for more information, contact Assaf Biderman.

The goals of the project are to make trash collection, recycling, and disposal more efficient, and to raise awareness of the resources and energy needed to manage the trash in our throwaway societies.

Early results of the study, which uses real-time tracking to follow items such as a Starbucks coffee cup, a plastic yogurt container, an old computer, and a fluorescent light bulb, are available for public viewing:

  • New York City: The Urban Center, 457 Madison Avenue, Sept. 17 to Nov. 7, 2009.
  • Seattle: Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Avenue, Sept. 19 to Oct. 11, 2009.

Even in the early stages of this project, there may be lessons learned that you can extend to the settings you cover. Longer term, the findings could apply to a vast array of cities and towns, since one of the motivations for Waste Management is to see if there are ways to improve the efficiency and operations of the entire waste handling industry.